Finding Scriptural Church Fellowship

Starting a House Church

A third option available to you is starting a house church, or joining one in your area. This will require existing bonds of friendship and brotherhood with other Christians in your area, bonds which often develop through homeschool groups. I have been involved in a number of house churches myself, so I speak from experience here.

  • Advantages of a House Church

The great thing about a house church is that you get to follow all your own Kingdom convictions, in contrast to an established conservative Anabaptist church, where you’ll have to live by the convictions of the group whether you share them or not. A house church tends to encourage very close bonds of fellowship; members of a house church often share a meal after the Sunday morning meeting, with fellowship lasting all afternoon.

  • Disadvantages of a House Church

The main disadvantage of house churches is that they tend to be unstable. House churches are usually short-lived, lasting from six months to five years. Problems in house churches arise as people discover their areas of disagreement. Now differences can arise in any church, not just house churches. However, in a church of thirty families, if two families become dissatisfied and decide to go elsewhere, it’s not a big deal, and the church goes on. However, in a house church of four families, if two families leave, that’s fifty percent of your membership, and it may well mean the end of the church. This is why house churches are fragile; it’s the logistics of having just a few families. You all have to stick together, and any division will likely end the church.

Another disadvantage is that even in a house church where everything goes well, as children approach marrying age, their choices for a partner may be very limited. One solution to this problem is to let young people attend some of the many Bible schools and other gatherings that are common in Anabaptist circles. You don’t have to belong to a Mennonite church to attend many of these gatherings. Many young Anabaptist men and women find mates in such places, and that can happen for other Kingdom families as well.

Because of the considerations above, I strongly advise you not to move to a new location to join a house church. Moving to a stable, established church is hard enough, but when everyone involved is going through a transition, with all the stress and financial uncertainty involved in relocating, it makes for a highly unstable situation. If you choose to become part of a house church, start locally with the people already in your community.

My observation is that people who try house churches usually find it doesn’t work, and they often end up joining an Anabaptist church or a conventional church in the end. They conclude that the stability of these established churches more than offsets their disadvantages. I’m not saying you absolutely should not try a house church; just don’t set your expectations too high.

Fellowship with Purpose

Dean Taylor has recorded a message entitled “Does Your Church Have a Purpose?” (available from Scroll Publishing as a CD or download) that addresses some important ideas I missed for many years. One of the encouragements he gives in this message is not to build a church around the idea of “doing everything right.” In the various house churches I’ve been in, we tried hard to nail down everything, to reach full agreement about the “right” positions regarding baptism, communion, and a host of other doctrines. I think this mindset is common in house churches; since we are starting our own church, this is our opportunity to finally get everything right.

Of course, it would be wonderful to find full agreement on every issue and have consistent teaching all the time, but this focus on “rightness” can bog us down and end up highlighting our differences instead of bringing unity. House churches often spend months and months going systematically over various doctrinal issues, only to divide and scatter when they fail to resolve their differences.

Instead of focusing on hammering out an intellectual agreement on a whole list of beliefs, Dean suggests building your church’s identity and sense of purpose around ministry to others: how can we serve the poor and others in our community with deep unmet needs? What would happen if churches were established with the kinds of ministry Jesus talks about as their top priority and focus: visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. When the work of the Kingdom is your primary purpose as a church, you’ll find fewer reasons to divide, and you won’t mind so much if not everyone agrees on every detail of doctrine. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to get a copy of Dean Taylor’s message and listen to it.

Don’t Lose Heart!

The problem of finding Kingdom fellowship in the 21st century has no easy answer. It’s not impossible, however; I’ve enjoyed Kingdom fellowship for over twenty years now, but it hasn’t been easy and, like most of you, I’ve tried several different paths during my journey. So I encourage you not to give up in your quest for fellowship.

God will answer your prayer for fellowship if you are in the right place spiritually. That’s why I spent so much of this article talking about getting your own spiritual life in order. If everyone you meet can see Kingdom fruit abounding in you, you will find a place to fellowship where you can be a blessing to others, and where you can be blessed.

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